Often-overlooked junior broadcaster the CW stepped into the spotlight at the Television Critics Association's winter tour when network president Mark Pedowitz dropped the mic in a major way: The exec announced he would be renewing the network's entire fall lineup.
And the CW got even more attention at the Golden Globes when Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez won best actress in a comedy, the CW's first Globe. It was the only broadcast network to win one this year.
The CW's freshman series are The Flash—the network's highest-rated series ever (its 1.53 rating among 18- to 49-year-olds beats New Girl, CSI and The Good Wife)—and Jane the Virgin, which has attracted critical acclaim and now a Golden Globe, both of which have long eluded CW shows.
The other six returning next season are mainstays Arrow, Reign, Supernatural, The 100, The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. The CW has been quick on the draw with renewals in the past, but this is a new level of confidence for the network.
No broadcaster in recent memory has ever renewed its entire fall lineup before. Pedowitz told reporters that this is part of the network's transition to year-round scripted programming, with the renewed series returning over next fall, midseason and summer. "This enables us to finally get to the place of providing scripted summer programming," he said, "and so the summer of '16 should be a much bigger summer for us than ever before."
Those hits have helped draw men back to the network. In the 2010-2011 season, the CW's audience was only 30 percent male, and that percentage has grown to 40 percent this season. Also, "we grew a little older than we used to be," said Pedowitz. "Our affiliates are happier [with] that."
Things aren't entirely rosy for the CW. While its ratings are up over four of its five nights, "Thursday got hit," said Pedowitz, as The Vampire Diaries and Reign struggled against ABC's fortified TGIT (Thank God It's Thursday) lineup of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal.
While not all the pickups have been solid ratings performers, the across-the-broad renewals signify that "the shows were creatively quite strong. We believe in them," said Pedowitz. (The CW's quality streak continues with its fantastic midseason drama iZombie, which debuts March 17.) Plus, "we have a huge digital component [to our] viewing. We've been able to monetize that digital component with the convergence strategy done years ago. So we're still seeing the viewership. It's just on a very-much-delayed or digital basis."
He's being particularly patient with critical darling Jane the Virgin, which, despite its acclaim and Sunday night Golden Globes win, is averaging just 0.46 in the 18-49 demographic. Still, the exec noted that "we didn't have a very high bar on Mondays at 9 [p.m.]," where Beauty & the Beast and The Tomorrow People languished last season. "It's a quality show," he said of Jane. "Just give it time."
What Pedowitz et al can't do, however, is give late-to-bandwagon viewers access to Jane's first episodes, due to contractual issues that prevent stacking of the entire current season. "At this point, we don't have the ability to stack the stream as we wished," said Pedowitz, who hopes for that to change in the next year. "It is fluid and it is in discussion." It's worth noting, though, that the network is re-airing the episodes as often as possible, including reruns of the season's first two segments on Monday as a victory lap for the show's Golden Globes trophy.
As he looks to keep the CW's ratings momentum going, "we will do genre, but we still have to find shows that appeal to everybody," said Pedowitz, who will also try to be conservative with crossovers, which need to have "an organic basis, otherwise they feel forced, and the audience recognizes that."
To that end, Pedowitz will restrict "big crossovers" like Arrow and Flash to just once a year, in the fourth quarter, "similar to the Doctor Who Christmas specials."
Pedowitz is also being cautious about adding to his superhero stable. While he is exploring other DC Comics properties, he's wary of turning the CW into the superhero network. "You don't want to become just one thing," he said, noting that a third superhero series "would have to stand on its own legs," just as The Flash and Arrow do.
While Pedowitz still isn't getting the ratings of the other four broadcasters, he's taking solace in the fact that the CW is the only network whose total viewers have increased since 2012. "We have grown our basic ratings over the last two years in a world [where it's] kind of tough to grow ratings at all," he said. That's happening on the digital side as well, where Pedowitz said viewership is up 23 percent during the past year.
"So it's been one great fourth quarter, and hopefully it continues," he said.